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Officials promote holiday safety

As the July 4 holiday approaches, more and more fireworks vendors are – as usual – setting up tents along city streets.

Public safety officials hope that with these booming sales, people will make sure to safely use their fireworks. According to Capt. Bill Wade from Tampa Fire Rescue, it only takes one mistake for the holiday to turn into a family disaster.

“We’ve had cases locally, particularly children, of eye injuries and hand injuries,” Wade said. “It’s usually somebody’s ignorance.”According to Sabrina Stanett, who operates a fireworks tent next to Perkins on Fowler Ave. and 50th Street, not many customers ask questions about the safety of her products.

“People don’t really ask – only people who are here with small children,” she said.

According to Kitty Bevis, who assists Stanett at the stand, more people are concerned with the legality of the fireworks.

“We’ve had people asking if certain ones are legal,” Bevis said. “If we’re selling them here, they’re legal to use.”

Both said they field a lot of questions about illegal fireworks, banned either by the state or the federal government.

“Some people ask for M-80s,” Bevis said. “But M-80s are federally banned. You’ll go to federal prison.”

According to Stanett, whose display is one of several near campus, fireworks sales seem to be mostly to families. Individual students are not patronizing the stand as frequently as parents and children.

“I’ve had a lot of students come and look – but they don’t buy anything,” Stanett said.

USF rules prohibit students from setting off fireworks on campus, and Wade said he expected University Police to rigorously enforce that rule. But within Hillsborough County and the city of Tampa, police and fire officials have a more murky law to fall back on when it comes to fireworks safety.

Florida Statute 791 allows people to purchase fireworks for a set of defined legal purposes, such as for agricultural or railroad purposes. Every patron must sign a waiver promising to use the fireworks for the legal purposes – none of which are entertainment – when purchasing fireworks to absolve the vendor of any liability.

According to Wade, police let people have their own private fireworks displays so long as they use fireworks that are legal under state or federal law, and only rarely use the law as a fallback in case people are endangering themselves.

“If you, as an individual, are using fireworks, we’re not going to go out looking for you,” Wade said. “Now if we get a complaint that you’re overdoing it, we might go say ‘Look guys, you’re not being safe with these, put them away.’ At most, we might confiscate them.”

It’s important for police and fire officials to have some way to stop dangerous private displays, according to Wade.

“There was no plan in the law for you to have a backyard display,” he said. “There are inherent dangers there. People tend to drink alcohol and stay home. That’s fine, but then they bring out explosives.”

Public safety officials are mostly concerned about injuries to people, primarily children. And although injuries nationwide are down per year since the mid-1990s, 45 percent of all injuries are to children younger than age 15, according to a report by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

About 35 percent of injuries to children are from firecrackers, and about 20 percent of injuries are due to rockets. Wade said it’s up to parents to provide suitable adult supervision, and to only let children use the smaller novelties.

“My own kids are pestering me for some (fireworks),” he said. “I’ll give them smokers and sparklers, but when it comes to firecracker, well, we’ll stay with the little stuff.”